How Facebook & Twitter are More Similar than Ever Before—and What That Means for Social Media

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Kayla Hammersmith
February 17, 2016

#TBT to Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006. The social media platforms were in their purest, most infantile form. On Facebook, all users cared about was getting friend requests and posting on walls while Twitter’s foundation was a trim 140-character count and a fast-moving, chronological feed.

In 2016, things have changed. With more and more features updating Facebook and Twitter every few months, it’s clear that the platforms want to move far beyond their original missions. In fact, it seems as if both Facebook and Twitter are striving to become the one all-encompassing social media platform to end all platforms. And yet, by doing so, they’re becoming more and more similar to each other.

While Facebook’s 1.55 billion active monthly users dwarf Twitter’s still-hefty 320 million users, they’re still clear competitors. Every update by one platform—from live video to hashtags—is soon mirrored by the other. Discover what these overlaps are and what they mean for the future of social media below.

 

The #ubiquitous #trending #hashtag

While the hashtag was first used in 2007, it became the formalized indexing component of Twitter in 2009. This was accompanied by the “trending topics” feature. And thus, the #hashtag culture was born.

While other social media platforms have incorporated the hashtag to varying degrees of success (think of Instagram and Pinterest), Facebook also tried and failed to spark a strong hashtag culture on its own site. Hashtags made their debut on Facebook in 2013 and the “Trending” section began in 2014. These updates were clear attempts to make Facebook a site where users go to talk about what’s happening in the moment, instead of browsing photos and statuses of things that have already happened.

While Facebook’s Trending section provides more context as to why exactly certain people and events are popular at the moment, the hashtag and trending topics are so central to Twitter’s core in a way that they’ll never be to Facebook.

 

The customizable feed

Do you ever feel like your Facebook News Feed is like getting a pile of junk mail? After a countless stream of ads, boring statuses, political rants, and blurry photos that never made it to Instagram, it’s easy to get frustrated with the quality of posts you see—and Facebook knows this.

That’s why Facebook surveyed users on what posts they liked to see and is changing the algorithm to show posts that you’ll enjoy and engage with at the top of the feed. Of course, it’s still possible to categorize certain people as “close friends” that you always want to see posts from.

Even more recently, Twitter began rolling out a feed update where posts are sorted by relevance, not time. This change was intended to allow users who’ve been away from Twitter for a period of time to catch up on valuable tweets without missing them entirely. Some Twitter purists went up in arms, declaring that this change takes the social media site away from what makes it unique. However, with slowing user growth, it makes sense that the site is trying to become more accessible to people beyond Twitter diehards.  

 

The rise of live streaming & video

As Twitter tries to appeal to users who aren’t constantly talking about things as they happen, Facebook attempts to do the opposite. With about 100 million hours of video watched every day on Facebook, video is Facebook’s newest obsession—and the new Live Video app proves it. Users can stream video to friends and followers easily without needing to download any other tool.

Compare this to how Twitter acquired live-streaming video app Periscope in 2015 and began integrating the app into the Twitter feed in January 2016. Users can watch and view comments on Periscope videos in Twitter itself, but they need to open Periscope to send comments on the video.

Another disadvantage: Periscope videos disappear 24 hours after broadcast while Facebook Live Video lives forever. But don’t discount Twitter’s live streaming just yet—the company has announced plans to save Periscope broadcasts.

 

The importance of the “walled garden”

Wondering what a “walled garden” is? Don’t worry. It’s simply the idea that a social media platform provides users with content that’s only accessible on that one platform. Both Facebook and Twitter are making moves to become walled gardens–with even higher walls–in order to keep users on their respective sites.

Facebook’s Instant Articles feature is a perfect example of this movement. This new format allows articles to load quickly and be more mobile-friendly than ever before—all while being hosted on the Facebook platform. You can share the post on your Facebook wall in just one click and easily go back to your Facebook binge-fest right away.

At the moment, Twitter doesn’t have a feature to keep users from clicking out to other sites in order to read articles—but it will soon. “Beyond 140” is a project that will allow users to read articles linked in tweets within Twitter itself.

For those of you freaking out over gossip that Twitter will increase the character limit from 140 to 10,000, take a deep breath. The tweets themselves will still remain 140 characters and Twitter’s core structure won’t change fundamentally. It’ll just build its walls a little higher in an effort to keep users inside.

 

There can’t be only one

Facebook and Twitter used to be two distinct social media platforms with two distinct purposes. Now they’re both shifting in similar ways—but that doesn’t mean that there will ultimately be one superpower social media platform. Instead, social media will just continue becoming even more of a superpower in general.

The idea that “there can be only one” applies to WWE or the finale of The Bachelor, but not for social media platforms (at least for now).

Take Kanye West’s Twitter rant asking Facebook creator & CEO Mark Zuckerberg for money–$1 billion, to be exact–because he’s apparently “this generation’s Disney” as an example.  (Not exactly sure why Kanye is comparing himself to Walt, but anyway.) West tweeted up a storm asking Zuckerberg and Google Co-Founder Larry Page for money to fund his genius ideas. And here’s the kicker: Zuckerberg doesn’t even have a Twitter account.

Yes, this rant exemplifies the convergence of Facebook and Twitter; West used Twitter’s capabilities as a social media platform to reach out to Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO. However, this also demonstrates why both platforms still need to exist. West wouldn’t use Facebook to repeatedly post short messages to his followers—Twitter is best for that. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg—and Facebook in general—is seen as a forerunner in investing in new and important tech ideas.

The changing social media landscape isn’t about a road to one monolithic social media platform. Instead, it reflects important social media trends: trending topics, a customized experience, live streaming, and walled gardens.

 

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What else is a new trend for social media? Do you think there will ever be just one social media platform? Would you give Yeezy $1 billion? We’d love to hear your thoughts on all of these questions. Tweet us @Perfect_Search! 



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Kayla Hammersmith
Senior Manager, Copywriting & Content Strategy

Kayla Hammersmith is a huge fan of Nancy Drew computer games and swears that she can do a very specific impression of Pal, the dog from Arthur. You might often find her snacking on goat cheese as she dreams of one day becoming a cellist savant.

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